Crew's playoff chances alive and well
Big offense produces needed confidence boost down stretch
CINCINNATI -- Three weeks deep in a brutal September, the Brewers relished an opportunity to celebrate twice on Sunday.First, they finished off an 8-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park, getting three RBIs from Prince Fielder and a potentially game-changing outing from reliever Todd Coffey to avoid a three-game Cincinnati sweep. Then they retreated to the clubhouse and watched on television as the Braves held off the Mets, helping the Brewers climb back to within 1 1/2 games of New York in the chase for the National League Wild Card, two games back in the loss column. Braves closer Mike Gonzalez coughed up a two-run homer that made it a one-run game, but when he struck out the Mets' final two hitters, hoots and hollers went up in Milwaukee's clubhouse. Such outbursts have been rare during the Brewers' 5-15 September. "It takes [guts] to stay positive," Fielder said. "There is that failure part where people get passive and that fear of failure comes in. Then you're playing -- not scared -- but you're not letting your natural ability come out. I think it takes a lot more courage to be aggressive." Fielder & Co. took that aggressive approach against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (15-11), who had won his last five decisions and would have had six in a row if not for a blown save by the Reds' bullpen on Sept. 10 in Milwaukee. The Brewers tagged him for six runs -- five were earned -- on six hits in six innings, then tacked on two more runs against Cincinnati relievers for their first eight-run outburst since an 11-3 win in Pittsburgh on Aug. 30. Fielder struck first with a solo home run off Arroyo leading off the second inning and added a two-run double in Milwaukee's three-run fourth inning to temporarily tie teammate Ryan Braun with 98 RBIs. Braun reclaimed the team lead with an RBI groundout in the fifth inning, when the Brewers scored two more times against Arroyo for a 6-1 lead. The Brewers' middle-of-the-order sluggers are in a healthy competition for the team's home run title -- Fielder closed the gap with his 33rd; Braun has been stuck on 35 homers since Sept. 13 and has hit one since Aug. 29. They are also competing for the team's RBI crown. That's the category Fielder is more interested in. "Home runs, that's too hard, those just happen," Fielder said. "I feel like RBIs are fun because when you're competitive trying to get RBIs, that also helps the team. We'll just stay on RBIs." Said Braun: "We don't care who wins, we just both want to get to 100. When you get to 100 RBIs, it shows you've had a great, consistent season. That's a big number." Corey Hart hit a pair of sacrifice flies for Milwaukee and, despite finishing 0-for-3, at least showed signs of life. Hart is in a 7-for-56 (.125) funk. Braun had been struggling, too, and entered the game with six hits in his last 52 at-bats (.115) before going 2-for-5. To help get things going, manager Dale Sveum called for a hit-and-run with Craig Counsell at first base and Braun at the plate in the fourth inning. "That's probably my first one ever," Braun said. "Just trying something. I've hit a few balls hard at people, so you get guys moving around and maybe it opens up a hole. [Sveum] has been pretty aggressive, and that one worked out." Fielder did not need any help. He has hit safely in 12 straight games with a .435 average (20-for-46), five home runs and 15 RBIs in that span. "He's really picked us up and put us on his back," Braun said. "He's carried us this month. He's been the only guy swinging the bat well. He's about the only reason we have won the games we have won." Coffey (1-0) played a significant role. Seth McClung started three days after a two-inning emergency relief appearance in Chicago and began to tire as he reached the 70-pitch mark in the fourth inning. McClung plunked No. 8 hitter Ryan Hanigan to load the bases with one out, prompting a call for the former Reds closer who had spent 10 years in Cincinnati's organization. Coffey struck out Arroyo and Jerry Hairston Jr. to preserve what at the time was a 4-1 lead. For the second straight day he glared up at the press box after a scoreless appearance -- Coffey said he was showing Reds officials he had his head held high -- and this time was awarded the win by official scorer Glenn Sample. "We're in a playoff hunt and that's what matters here," said Coffey, who was designated for assignment by the Reds earlier this month. "Personally, to come in and face my former team, it felt good. I did what I had to do." McClung called Coffey's sixth scoreless Brewers appearance a "bailout." "Chicago really wore on me more than I thought it would," McClung said. "I just pitched with everything I had. I'll have more next time around, but today that was all I've got. I gave the Brewers everything I had. Today is a good day." Now the Brewers return to Milwaukee for a homestand that could save their season. They host the Pirates for three consecutive night games beginning Tuesday, then it's the Cubs for a three-game weekend series. Chicago has already clinched the NL Central. The Brewers are trying to stay positive. "Especially since Dale has been here, he's really been stressing to stay positive" Fielder said. "Realize that baseball ... is not easy. You can hit five balls hard, right at somebody, and that doesn't necessarily mean you're not swinging good. It just means you didn't get a hit."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.